In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
June, 2004
Regional Report

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Provide enough space for good air circulation around your tomato plants and stake them to keep fruits off the ground.

Troubleshooting Tomatoes

Even the best gardeners can face challenges when growing tomatoes, and often they show up just as the fruit is starting to swell and ripen.

Know the Leaf
Anything that reduces the number and size of tomato leaves affects the number, size, and ripening of the fruit. When leaves low down on the stem turn yellow and new leaves that emerge are pale green, this is a sign there isn't enough nitrogen available. If leaves get spots that look like bulls eyes (brown in the center with yellow halos), or if the entire plant suddenly wilts with no other explanation, blight may be developing.

There are two different blights and neither responds well to curative measures. Pluck off the bad leaves and hope for the best. If the damage persists, get rid of the plant and go for a fall crop.

Watching for Pest Damage
Once the fruit begins to turn pink and ripen, other pests are attracted to them. If squirrels or birds damage the tomatoes, get the fruits off the plant. You can wash the fruit and cut away the damage and eat the rest. Or you can compost them. Damaged tomatoes attract a host of secondary insects like gnats and slugs that you do not need in the garden. Watch for stinkbugs, too. Their attempts to eat the tomatoes simply wound them with stings that interfere with the ripening process.

Tomato hornworms are very large, bright green worms that blend in easily with the foliage. Walking through the garden every day helps you spot them while they're small. Pluck them off and drop them into a bucket of soapy water if you're not the "stomp and squish" type.

Environmental Conditions
Other dangers that affect tomatoes are conditions like blossom end rot and catface. Their causes are different, but keeping a close eye on the plants can reduce the damage. Uneven watering -- where plants are dry one day and soaked the next -- can trigger blossom end rot, in which the blossom end of the fruit begins to rot.

Cool weather at blossom time can cause catfacing, a condition of misshapen fruit where there are swollen areas and cavities. There's not much you can do to stop the development of it, but remove any affected fruits promptly.


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